Get Regular Updates!



Ben Blennerhassett via Unsplash

The perils of perfectionism

The perils of perfectionism

WA researchers aim to help teen girls feel better in their bodies with an online program targeting perfectionism, which has been linked to depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

The perils of perfectionism

The Overcoming Perfectionism study uses cognitive behaviour therapy to challenge perfectionistic thinking.

This way of thinking is a known risk factor for depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Australians are experiencing deteriorating mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers hope the free online program can help teenage girls improve their state of mind and wellbeing.

The problem with perfectionism

Clinical psychologist and Curtin University PhD student Amy O’Brien is leading the research.

She says there’s nothing wrong with having high standards and being driven to succeed.

But perfectionism can make us feel like we’re never good enough regardless of how high we score on a test or how well we perform on the sporting field. That’s unhelpful and takes a toll on our self-esteem.


“We’re not trying to lower people’s standards or stop them from achieving great things,” says Amy.

“We just want them to have self-esteem that comes from other places, not just based on whether they achieve good results or not.”

The shadow pandemic

Mental illness symptoms have increased across the board since the start of the pandemic.

The World Health Organization estimates COVID-19 triggered a 25% increase in anxiety and depression – with young people and women bearing the brunt.

InsideOut, Australia’s national research institute for eating disorders, found eating disorder symptoms increased significantly during the first wave of the pandemic. This was coupled with difficulty accessing treatment.

Amy says relationships are key in our lives – particularly for teenagers.

“It’s a really important developmental step when they differentiate from their family and they start to rely on their peer groups as big influences,” she says.

“So the fact that we’ve all been driven online … I think definitely is playing into things.”

Instagram versus reality

“We know that eating disorders have existed long before TV and the internet,” says Amy.

“But certainly I think the number of images that we’re exposed to online and all the filters and the photoshopping is warping, maybe, our perspective of normal.”

On social media, we’re constantly comparing ourselves to other people’s best moments.

“That’s really going to make our self-esteem take a dip, particularly if we’re prone to having perfectionistic standards for ourselves,” says Amy.

“If we're only ever seeing everyone's great accomplishments, it might make us feel that we have to achieve even more to measure up.”

Cutting through inequality

When it comes to treating anxiety and depression, online programs can be almost as effective as face-to-face services.

Amy believes this is the first online program to treat perfectionism in people at risk of eating disorders.

She says online treatments can cut through inequality in accessing mental health services, particularly for people living in rural or remote communities.

“The real-world applications really excite me,” says Amy.

“If we can get good evidence that shows this is effective, then it’s one more resource for the people who might struggle to access help.”

Amy is currently recruiting participants for the Overcoming Perfectionism study. To find out more, visit

Particle Puns


Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.


You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.


Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.


All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.


For more information about using our content, email us:

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?